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Electric Buses Trials in Vermont and New Hampshire

A BYD electric bus. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

A BYD electric bus. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

By George Harvey

In February of 2017, Green Energy Times ran a story, “Electric Bus Trials in Vermont and New Hampshire,” describing what were then upcoming trials of an electric bus in Vermont. The bus to be used for the test was a forty-foot unit built by BYD, the Chinese company that provided the bus to test.

That bus has now been tested by two local transit companies. One is Advance Transit (AT), which operates in some areas of the Upper Valley of Vermont and New Hampshire. The other is Green Mountain Transit (GMT), whose bus lines are in and around Burlington, Vermont. Assistance for the program has been provided by the Vermont Agency of Transportation (Vtrans), and the Vermont Energy Investment Corporation (VEIC), and the Burlington Electric Department (BED).

The bus arrived for AT’s trials in late February, and was used over a period of seventeen days. During that time, it served on a number of regular routes, including hospital shuttles, the Blue route running in Lebanon, Hanover, and Canaan, New Hampshire; and the Red route in Lebanon.

The trial produced very few problems. One was a pair of unexpected noise issues that were dealt with easily. Another was learning to adapt to how electric buses operate on slippery surfaces, an issue partly related to regenerative breaking that was resolved by disabling that system while the bus was on winter snow and ice.

From the customers’ point of view, the bus served well. It’s noteworthy that it was warm, even when the temperatures dipped down to near zero Fahrenheit.

An important system to test was the battery. It performed as advertised, with 33% to 37% of the charge remaining at the end of a twelve to thirteen hour day, driving 130 miles. A test with the regenerative braking system disabled showed the value of that system, but also showed it was not absolutely necessary.

Chris Andreasson, Director of Transportation at AT, expressed appreciation to Michelle McCutcheon-Schour and Bethany Whitaker at VEIC who initiated the company’s test project, and to Carlos Antunes and Chris Batiste of BYD, who provided help as needed. He also said AT was pleased with the overall test result.

The bus left AT on March 17 for the rest of its next tests, which were in Burlington and lasted until April. There, it was tested by GMT. CEO Mark Sousa summed up the experience in that city, saying, “We did a pilot program and captured a lot of data on efficiency. … We may possibly purchase four electric buses.” He mentioned that there is a considerable difference between the initial cost of electric buses and those operating on diesel. The electric buses cost more, but are much better for air quality and operating costs, so GMT is looking for grants, with cooperation with BED, VTrans, and VEIC.

Sousa said the bus GMT tested was designed for the inner city and worked well in Burlington. It did not do quite as well for longer distance rides to Montpelier, but BYD makes different models for longer trips. “We are excited about the project and the partners,” he said. “We would love to be able to get electric buses.”

We also talked with Darren Springer, BED’s CEO. He also hopes for a purchase of four electric buses in Burlington. He told us of a number of other exciting projects at BED that aim to reduce fossil fuels use for transportation. One of these is the utility’s own electric vehicle rebate program.

BED customers who buy electric vehicles that are registered in Burlington can get rebates of up to $1,200 on the purchase. There is a limit of one per customer, and the vehicle must cost less than $50,000. BED is also looking at extending the program to qualify plug-in hybrids, and is even looking at green pricing options for electricity, which we regard as remarkable for the first sizable city utility to be 100% powered by renewables.

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